Best SEO Practices: An Expert’s Approach – ReportGarden Interview
Last updated 10/25/21 ✧ First posted 11/24/16
~8 minutes to read.
“The three essential elements of an effective SEO are effective communication, useful information and high quality backlinks.”
SEO management is not so much about being a technical wizard. It is more about understanding what the wizards do, as well as how this process generates rankings & visits.
After all, it’s the rankings & visits that lead to sales and conversions. SEO managers love sales & conversions – because this is what makes clients happy, and a happy client means a job well done!
The key to being an SEO specialist is forging meaningful and lasting relationships with clients and colleagues, keeping abreast with the changing world of SEO & having the ability to project manage in a calm, collective and organized manner. This is how being a SEO manager is a challenge in itself.
Our interview today is with such a knowledgeable SEO manager – Meet Ethan J Hulbert.
Ethan is currently working for Razorfish Media Group as SEO manager, mentoring marketing to start-up companies at 1871, and doing plenty of independent work, too. He is a detailed worker who strives to please his clients in any way possible. He’s a skilled writer and problem solver who always helps out.
Sharing his tips on the best SEO practices, it’s truly an honor to host Ethan Hulbert in our agency expert interview series:
1. We would like to know a bit of your career background, and how and when you got into SEO and Digital Marketing ?
My career path was definitely not normal. I’ve always been a creative writer, and I taught myself how to code websites in elementary school before modern search engines existed. I studied nuclear engineering and nanoscience in college, but ended up graduating with a degree in experimental film editing.
For a few years after graduation, I was lost – working minimum wage jobs without a clear goal in mind. At my lowest point, I was unemployed and homeless.
I took a low-level web design job, heard about SEO, and started experimenting on my own. I used that knowledge to jump into a content writing position, nabbed a couple quick promotions… A few years and companies later, I’m a manager at Razorfish and still have a lot of room to grow.
It’s all about hard work and creating your own opportunities. Never give up!
2. What do you believe to be the most important task you do on a daily basis? Why?
Reading. So much reading. I start my day with world news from sources with different biases. Then I move down to marketing, advertising, SEO news. Then I skim news from other niche sites – everything from financial updates to deep sea exploration to medieval history, whatever.
During the day for clients I often find myself reading white papers or SEC filings. And after work I’m onto textbooks, biographies, anything I can get my hands on. It’s important to me that I’m always learning more and expanding my perspectives every single day. This lets me make connections between disparate concepts so I can have deeper understandings of the things around me – at work and in life.
3. What resources or influencers do you follow by staying ahead in the world of SEO?
Besides the regular SEO news sites and Google blogs, I like Sugarrae, Bill Slawski and Glen Allsopp. I try to avoid the “celebrities” in the SEO industry because most of their advice seems to be outdated or sanitized; if it’s what everyone else is listening to, then doing it yourself doesn’t make you very competitive. But my “Marketing Reading” bookmark folder is a mile long.
4. How do you think SEO will evolve in the coming years?
As a futurist, I actually wrote an article in 2015 about my predictions for digital marketing, all the way up to the year 2700 (see my blog). So far, I’ve been pretty accurate – for instance, I mentioned how China’s light apps would catch on in America, and we’re already getting AMP and progressive web apps, which are similar. But predicting mobile friendliness is low hanging fruit.
I believe Google will continue to take away power from webmasters and hide more and more data. Meanwhile it will increase the personalization on SERPs, making a keyword ranking entirely subjective – you may rank #1 on “diamond rings” for Alice, but you’re #28 for Bob. Many agencies are moving away from reporting on rank already, and I can’t fault them when traffic and revenue are the real KPIs to watch. I don’t think SEO will die for a long time, but it will get quite a bit harder, quite a bit different, so our industry will need some truly smart and creative leaders to continue pushing forward.
5. What do you think is your greatest career accomplishment?
The greatest accomplishment in my career has been the honor of leading teams of people. A leader is nothing without his or her team, and the team is only as strong as its weakest member. Nothing makes me feel more proud than helping a colleague learn and grow and achieve personal success at work. Just as bread and water can so easily be toast and tea, a team member’s unfulfilling job can so easily become a rewarding position. When a team comes together, everyone wins – you, your clients, and your company. I’m happy that I’ve gotten to be a part of that.
6. What’s your favorite method to build links to your site?
I find that the best links happen naturally, so I don’t put a lot of thought into this if I don’t have to. While backlinks are obviously important, many of my biggest and most competitive victories have come without paying nearly any attention to building links at all.
Great content is what does it, of course, but I think a lot of folks hear “great” and think, “I’ll write the same marketing article, but just a little longer and with a few more resources!” It’s the whole 10x content buzzword idea, and it’s not bad, but it’s really limited.
“Great content” can also mean content in your unique voice, with your unique humor and style. Content with an entirely different perspective, or from a vastly different place. Writing one more generic article that’s 99 words longer than the last gets old fast.
Also, being a genuinely nice person and making friends also helps you get links. Giving links to friends helps you get links later. Doing the whole “networking” thing is incredibly transparent, but being polite and authentic goes a long way in the world.
7. Share with us your biggest SEO achievement and how you did it. For what competitive keywords have you ranked high and what techniques you used?
I hate that I can’t share the exact keyword/keyword set, but I used to own a website that reliably ranked #1 for some major multi-million monthly search volume terms. Also ranked well for the majority of associated longer tail terms, I mean this site just dominated.
It figures that it was originally a hobby site so I didn’t have a clear path to monetization jumping out at me, but I ended up building a hugely loyal community (under a pen name) that still brings value to this day. More importantly, it made me some friends and let me do some good in the lives of others, too.
What techniques? It was mostly the creative writing, but technical optimizations on posts that I knew would get shared frequently on social media was one trick that really shot me to the top.
I learned some obscure tactics with Tumblr, for instance, that are like linkbuilding on steroids, but not spammy or against any rules. I’m sure I’m not the only one who knows them but I haven’t heard anyone else talking about them yet, and this was years ago. But you can hook a Tumblr up as part of your website’s domain, include headings and links in the posts, and use a strategic liking system to generate an incredible amount of reach and authority in a very short amount of time. And it’s genuine! That’s the best part.
8. What is the best SEO tip you give for your clients and our audience ?
Learn everything you can. Test everything yourself. Get your hands dirty. If you’re doing SEO but you don’t know HTML, or network basics, or broader marketing fundamentals… I mean, just pick up a textbook from a used bookstore for a couple bucks and dig in. I’ve said this a million times. Then try it yourself, put these ideas to the test.
I’m part of an SEO help community that answers so many basic questions every day, and I think the real winners in the industry are the people who don’t just ask the questions, but the people who figure them out for themselves with a little extra work. The more you know, the more experience you have, the more you’ll be able to contribute – and the more you’ll feel good about yourself, too. And really, isn’t doing good and feeling good what the world is all about?
Today we got to know few of the best SEO practices from a very passionate SEO manager. Going forward there are many more specialists that we want to chat with. We will resume our discussion with another expert next week.
Until then, Happy Marketing.
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Article preserved by Ethan J. Hulbert.